Function, Packages, and Products oh My!: Function Decisions

There are two levels of Function Decisions… Packages and products

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Where the decisions come from are a little different for each of these. In general, it should always come from the perspective of your consumer and what they want.

We’ve all seen an iPod, iPad or iPhone and quite frankly when they first came out literally in the stores people were saying, why would I ever want to text message, if I want to find something out or talk to someone I’ll just call them. Afterwards text messaging became all the rage.

A lot of times with something new that’s on the cutting edge, consumers don’t really know what they want. However, if you’re watching them and you watch how they use things, there are a lot of clues as to how they’re going to interact with something. I want you to take that into consideration when you’re designing your product itself. I’ve seen many projects where people have gotten themselves in horrible financial holes because they didn’t think about the product use.

One example in particular, 122k units in a warehouse in Las Vegas and the button is in the wrong size and in the wrong place for what the product does. You really have to think about the functions, who’s using it, how they’re using it and what will they have as concerns.

For example, if you have adjustable height on something is their weight on that part before it’s adjusted or not? Is it adjustable while it’s in use or not? How do you do the adjustment? Do they have arthritis? Are they going to be able to push a push button thing with their thumbs, are they going to be strong enough or should you do it another way?

When it comes to function within your product there are a lot of considerations around ergonomics, how people think, how they move and it affects your packaging and labeling. For example, we had a client and their product is something you use for tires on cars. They wanted us to do their packaging. We named the product ‘twist pump’ and when I was looking at it we took it out in the parking lot and were testing it with the tire.

We tried to think of everything like, most people are right-handed so they’ll be holding it in their left and using the right hand to do this function. The measurement scale we wanted to put on it can’t be on the left side it has to be on the right side, so when they’re using it its’ facing the right direction, because of right-handed, left-handedness.

The manufacturer didn’t understand this. He really wanted it in this other place. I said you can’t do that because it’ll be hidden under the hand when it’s being used because they’ll use it with their left hand and twist it with the right. He said oh we hadn’t thought of that, you’re right. So when you’re thinking about function, you have to think about how it’s actually going to be used.


The next phase of function is how is my package going to function? How is it going to show off to its best advantage? And, if you’re doing anything for kids or people in third-world countries, sometimes the package itself is another component of your product. Is it a reusable bag? Is it a reusable box? Does it have another function after they purchase the product and use it up?

You have to think about these things. Little girls for example love pouches and change purse kinds of things, so maybe your product comes with one of those included or part of your packaging is that zipper pouch or something with cute graphics on it.

So when you’re looking at function you’re looking at how is the person interacting with what you’re selling?  My stance on all of that is that it is from the perspective of the person who is most likely to be the majority of your consumers. You have to think about who you’re selling to, why they’re buying it and what the unspoken needs and desires are that they have. Then you design into that, at least for most of the things that sell quickly and easily with the lowest marketing budget behind them.

If you choose the other way you’ll need a bigger marketing budget. If it’s something people don’t understand or you’re going against their pattern of how they use things, you have to make that other new way that you’re proposing be more attractive to them than what their ingrained habit is and that can be tough and it can be expensive to do.

I really want to bring this up because last week as I wrote an email I spent three days on-site working with a very well-known brand designer on one of my client’s projects that he had been hired into as well. He said we need to do this and this. I said we can’t do that because the consumer pattern is this and he said oh you’re right I hadn’t thought of that. So sometimes just because someone is a big brand designer doesn’t mean they understand the merchandising aspect of your packaging.

The other part of function for your packaging is how easy it is for your factory to put your product into the package. Your package has to look good on the shelf, sit on the space that it’s most intended for and it also has to be relatively easy to load your product into at the factory.

The way it’s loaded in has to withstand shipping. If you’re selling on Amazon and you have it going from you to a consumer and it arrives a mess when it gets there, if it moved around inside the package and things are crazy looking, that’s not a good experience and they aren’t likely to buy another one unless they absolutely love it once they start using it.

So the function of your package is to keep your product secure, keep it safe during shipping, merchandise it well and it has to also take into account the psychology piece of how people are going to function with it. The project we’re working on right now is a fairly deceptively simple looking package because it has six different printing surfaces when you view it from the front.

We could print in six different places, because it has three different layers of plastic. It has a front panel, center insert and back panel and we can print on front and back of all of them. That gives a very 3-dimensional effect it’s really cool, awesome and it’s coming out amazing and it’s complex.

So we have to think about the function of how the product interacts with the photos and how the plastic panels interact with each other to create our 3D effect we’re going for. This is the concept of it and then we have to move into the implementation and detail. So, when you’re looking at function, the function of the packaging is to get you attention on a shelf and to explain the product as well as be compelling.

I see a lot of very confused packaging that doesn’t really understand its purpose. For example, the same project I’m talking about that we worked on last week, it’s really neat. At some point the shape is specialized, but it has curves and shapes to it that are very eye-catching and unusual, yet it can sit flat on a shelf without tipping over. It can hang on a peg hook and be completely fine, so it can be used multiple places.

It’s eye-catching and not a traditional box, so think closely about this area called package engineering. When you’re talking about a graphics person to “design your package,” they’ll put graphics on things but they aren’t necessarily going to engineer a new package for you or a new shape or think about it in terms of how it will be in the store.

This is an important distinction because if one package looks good you want it to look good across your entire product line. This one client project that I’ve been using as the example in this is actually launching with nine different formats of their product. So we have eight different shapes that all have to relate to each other, where the logo needs to end up in the same general spot on the front of the package. The piece count needs to be in the same general spot on the front. The product name, same general spot.

So there needs to be consistency, yet we have these really different shapes to work with. I’m bringing this up because sometimes people will do one package for one product in isolation of what the rest of their product line is and then it creates a problem later. So when you’re managing an art project you have to consider if you have additional items, what are they going to look like next to it, particularly if they’re all related? You may also want to do a boutique within a retail store.

That means you’ll have your own panel within that store, maybe a 2 foot by 2 foot section or something. You want it to look consistent so it looks professional and these nuances seem so advanced, like you shouldn’t have to think about them where you are. They’re not advanced they’re critical to your success and if you don’t take care of these retailers won’t buy the maximum number of products from you. They will not allow their store to look junky.

You have to be tight and crisp with this it’s very important. The purpose then of the package area or panel that you’re working on, it depends on the photos that you’re using and which facing panel we’re talking about. On any given box you have six panels, because you have four sides, a to and a bottom and you can put your country of origin information on the back panel, your UPC on the bottom panel and registration of trademarks if you have to say ‘the iPad belongs to Apple Corporation’, it depends on the size of your package.

I want you to always think about what the purpose is of the panel that I’m speaking of. If you have a card with a poly bag on it (a clear Ziploc). If you have a backer card or header card on that then you have a front and back panel. Your front panel’s purpose isn’t the same as your back panel. The front panel’s purpose is always to communicate enough to get someone to pick it up.

If they turn it over that’s great, you have some legal requirements you have to do on the front panel too. In some cases you may need to have piece counts and it’s pretty typical that you will, depending on the size of the package, the piece count appears in different places. I know I’m giving you a lot to absorb, but these are some of the big pitfalls I see with people when they say their packaging is done and it’s not, because there’s something missing legally or they aren’t doing something properly there or they have mixed messages taking place in their packaging.

One of the other things I see is that people want to put so much on the packaging that it looks so crowded that people’s eyes can’t focus on anything. The only place where I’ve seen something like that be successful is on a soap line called Dr. Bronner’s. You can see it in Whole Foods and even Bed Bath & Beyond. Dr. Bronner’s package label on these bottles of soap is covered with text and with tiny fonts.

It’s Biblical and spiritual quotes as part of their aesthetics and it’s interesting if you can make yourself read the whole thing. I’ve never read the entire label, but it’s part of their look and then they have larger headline areas. It’s the only place where I’ve seen a ton of text really work.

The other thing you want to think about is that for any feature or benefit you’re trying to talk about, you want to decide if it’s better to show it in a picture or talk about it in text. For example, let’s say you treat something with an antimicrobial finish, you can’t show that in a picture so you have to talk about that in text, but you could talk about the soft micro fiber and show part of the micro fiber but the word soft will have to be in text.
You have to distinguish it because you don’t want to duplicate things unless you’re doing it intentionally to reinforce the benefit. There are big pieces here, this word intentionally is important. Every word that makes it onto your packaging has to be strategic, because you don’t get a lot of them.

To quote Mark Twain, he tells the story… ‘A college called him to do this commencement address and he said, how long do you need it to be, because they were asking how long he needed to write it. He said how long do you need it to be? They said why is that important? He said because if it’s an hour I only need a day, but if it’s 30 minutes I need a week and if it’s 10 minutes I need two weeks.’

You get the point. The tighter and more concise you have to be the more refining you’ll have to do, that’s the name of the game. You have to get it to the core essence of each thing about the product you’re packaging.

Those are my tips and the solutions are to be very good with your data management. There are so many pieces of detail when you’re creating a new product and it’s packaging, be attentive to detail. Proofread everything for typos and I mean everything. Even when we get artwork that we know we’re final and good and everyone has signed off, we still have another set of eyes that reads everything on it for typos.

You can’t proof your own work, so we have someone totally fresh to look at it. Pay attention to that. Typos are horrible, particularly in a retail package. Details like your UPC code being right, bar code descriptions if those are included, country of origin is really important and instructions. How are you going to include instructions, why and where? What’s the best place for the consumer to find your instructions?

Those are some of the data considerations. Package sizes and there are so many other things to go into…but lets pick this up another time!

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